National Finals Rodeo: Maier, Pruitt head to WNFR for first time |

National Finals Rodeo: Maier, Pruitt head to WNFR for first time

Ruth Nicolaus
for Tri-State Livestock News
Saddle bronc rider Chuck Schmidt competes at his third Wrangler NFR this December. The Keldron, S.D. cowboy ranches with his parents when he’s not on the rodeo road.

2016 WNFR contestants from Tri-State Livestock News country:

Bareback –

JR Vezain – WY

Ty Breuer, ND

Jessy Davis, MT

Steer Wrestling

Ty Erickson – MT (#1)

Team Roping - header

Dustin Bird – MT

Saddle Bronc

Chuck Schmidt – SD

Tie Down Roping

Riley Pruitt – NE  (his dad is a former world champ)

Bull Riding

Rorey Maier – SD –

Barrel Racing

Lisa Lockhart- SD

December always signals the Christmas season, colder weather, and for rodeo fans, the “holy grail” of rodeo: the Wrangler National Finals.

Several cowboys and a cowgirl from Tri-State Livestock News country are sure to keep readers glued to their tvs for the entire 10 days of rodeo competition.

One local cowboy, Gering, Nebraska, tie down roper Riley Pruitt, is following in his dad’s footsteps.

The father of the twenty-five year old cowboy is Troy Pruitt, the 1990 World Champion Tie-down Roper. Riley won the Nebraska High School Tie-down roping championship three times and finished third in the average at the College National Finals Rodeo in 2011, before hitting the pro rodeo trail full time.

The year 2016 has been his best yet, with him entering the WNFR in ninth place in the standings with $74,547 won in the regular season. His winning winter put him in a great spot – he won the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Odessa, Texas, the second round in San Angelo, Texas, and placed in San Antonio.

Doing well over the winter takes some of the pressure off during the busy summer season. “Having that much money won after the winter makes the summer a lot easier,” he said. “I can go to the big rodeos and don’t have to win first.”

Rodeoing a bit less in the summer also allows his horse to have some time off. “I didn’t have to have (Chip, his seventeen-year-old buckskin) in the trailer every day all year. We had a chance to come home a few days out of the week, and he got to relax and rest. He stayed strong for me all year.”

Chip was purchased from Steve Chittick in Wellfleet, Neb., in the spring of 2015. Pruitt won some on him last year, but the horse needed to be hauled and seasoned.

This year, Chip has blossomed. “He had a 180 (degree turn) and went to working like a champ,” Pruitt said. He wasn’t sure how the horse would do in small building arenas with lots of noise, but he did fine. “I was worried about the winter, how he’d handle the buildings,” Pruitt said. He rode him in Odessa, where the arena and building is small, and in Denver, where the noise level can be high. “After that, the noise didn’t bother him, and the buildings didn’t bother him. He worked better inside than outside. It was exciting for me to have him this year.”

To prepare for his ten runs in Las Vegas, Pruitt is running fifteen or sixteen calves a day on each of three practice horses. His dad and his wife (he got married in October to Jenna) are pushing calves for him, and Troy is offering advice. The eight-time WNFR qualifier has “been helping me, telling me what it’s like,” Pruitt said. “He’s helped me out on the start, and just being prepared for how loud it is. He said it’s nerve-wracking. He said you’ll make a great run, you’ll think you’re seven (seconds) and you look at the clock and you’re a 9.4. He said it’s so much easier to be slower and not make a mistake there. I’m working on being slower and not messing up. Every calf I run, I feel like I’m at (the Finals).”

Troy and his wife (and Riley’s mom) Martee will be in Las Vegas, along with Jenna, to watch him compete, and Troy will help take care of the horses. Along with Chip, he has a twelve year old horse named Lucky who will go as his backup.

Chip won’t be Pruitt’s mount during the nightly grand entry at the WNFR. During the entry, contestants gallop into the arena, with the top ranked contestant in each state carrying their state flag. It’s fast paced and the crowd loves it. With Pruitt the only Nebraskan at the WNFR, he will carry the state flag, but it won’t be do it on Chip. “I tried carrying a flag on him the other day, and he thought he was going to have a heart attack.” Pruitt will ride Lucky for the grand entry.

Another first-time WNFR qualifier will make his way to Las Vegas in December.

Bull rider Rorey Maier, Timber Lake, S.D., goes into the Finals in eighth place, with $99,000 won in the regular season.

The turning point for the twenty-eight-year-old cowboy was the Ellensburg, Wash. Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale on Sept. 3, where he won the Finals and the year-end title in the Xtreme Bulls, and “that’s what put me over the top,” he said.

He grew up in a rodeo family. His dad, Dale, rode bulls, and his mom, Dency, also competed. His mom’s dad, Bud Day, an inductee into the S.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame, worked every event. And Rorey and his older siblings, brothers Ardie and Corey and sister Peggy all competed.

Rorey has competed professionally since he was eighteen years old, but this is the best year he’s had.

In part, he figures, it might be from having plenty of time to think last year. At the Lovington, N.M. rodeo in August of 2015, he punctured a lung and lacerated his liver, putting him out of commission for four months. It was a good time to reflect, he said. “You gain a new perspective on life when you lose the breath in your lungs,” he said. “It makes you evaluate your life a little bit. I came back strong after that.”

Rorey has been training for the WNFR by running and doing different workouts that he has developed specifically for bull riders. They include balance exercises, riding the practice barrel, and riding horses with no saddle. He’ll also get on a few practice bulls. “I’ll try to stay sharp and in good shape, and do what I can to be ready.”

The town of Timber Lake (population 517) threw a send-off party for him in October. It was a potluck, with so many people there that more tables had to be set up in the community center. “It was really awesome,” he said. “You don’t realize how many people actually follow you and what you’re doing. It was really good to go back to my roots and see the support I have there.”

When he competes in Las Vegas, his brothers, sister and her husband Spencer O’Bryan, and their three children, and his grandma, along with other friends and family will be there to cheer him on. His parents and his grandma will stay for the entire ten day-duration of the rodeo, which surprised him. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “They’ll be going crazy,” in the big city, he figures.

Ardie, his brother seven years his senior, qualified for the WNFR in 2010 and 2012 and has given Rorey some tips. Rorey’s trying to think of it as just another rodeo. “When it comes down to it, it’s really the largest stage there is, but the process is still the same. You still ride your bull, you still do everything the same. It’s kind of how I approach it, to do everything I’ve been doing, and like I know how to do it. Go at it, one bull at a time, and enjoy it.”

“It’s what I’ve been working for, all these years, and it’s great to finally know I’m going there. I’m definitely excited.

The Wrangler NFR presented by Polaris Ranger is the season-ending championship event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

It will take place at the Thomas and Mack Arena on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas at 6:45 pm Pacific Time, Dec. 1-10 and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Net beginning at 9 pm CT each night.

The top fifteen contestants in each event – bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping (headers and heelers), saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, WPRA barrel racing and bull riding –qualify to compete at the WNFR based on money won during the regular season. At the conclusion of the WNFR, the sport’s world champions are determined based on total season earnings: what they win during the Wrangler NFR added to what they won during the regular season.

The payout for each round is as such: first place $26,230.77; second place $20,730.77; third place $15,653.85; fourth place $11,000.00; fifth place $6,769.23; and sixth place $4,230.77. The payout in the average is: first place $67,269.23; second place $54,576.92; third place $43,153.85; fourth place $31,730.77; fifth place $22,846.15; sixth place $16,500.00; seventh place $11,423.08 and eighth place $6,346.15.

The Wrangler NFR consists of ten rounds – one round on each of ten consecutive days, with each contestant competing once each day. Contestants earn money by playing first through sixth in any round, and pick up more money by placing first through eighth in the average (cumulative times or points earned during the ten rounds.) At the end of the Wrangler NFR, there are two champions in each event (four in the team roping): the average winner, who won the WNFR by having the best cumulative time or score for that event over the ten rounds, and the world champion, who finished the year with the most money won. The average winner and the world champion may be the same person, or different people, in each event.